The great classical civilizations of the Eastern Hemisphere, 500 BC to AD 500
This Premium guide suggests points students should be covering in their responses to questions.
1.& 2. Enquiry and Presentations
The headings and key points might look something like the list below, region by region. If the students produce something different, however, no problem – so long as they can justify what they leave out and what they include.
Students should be prepared to talk around the key points – causes, consequences, context and so on. The words and phrases in brackets are some ideas that might be linked with these.
More productive farming (especially outside river valleys)
Trade networks around Mediterranean
Spread of writing based on alphabet
Rise of city states
Political and cultural innovations which this enabled (which laid many of the foundations for later Western civilization thought, art and literature)
Alexander the Great (whose conquests spread Greek – or “Hellenistic” – civilization far to the East)
Conquests (leading to spread of urban civilization to far wider area than before, especially in western Europe);
Centuries of peace (and prosperity to millions of people)
Decline and fall of western part of empire (and succession by Germanic kingdoms, which preserved elements of Graeco-Roman culture)
Eastern RomanEmpire (and survival of Graeco-Roman civilization in the eastern Mediterranean)
The foundational religion of Western civilization.
Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, Persian
Spread of Aramaic language and alphabet
Alexander the Great:
Greek-style cities across Middle East (centres of international hybrid “Hellenistic” civilization)
Division between Roman empire and Parthian empire:
Greek culture across region;
Jewish rebellions against Romans (and diaspora)
Origins in Judaea
Spread in Roman Empire and Parthian Empire
Rise of Persian civilization
Mesopotamian irrigation system (reaches a peak)
Trade networks with Middle East (alphabet; iron tools)
Kingdoms and republics
Buddhism and Jainism
Alexander the Great
Rise of the Maurya
Decline of the Maurya
Spread of Aryan civilization to central India
Scythians from central Asia
Kushana empire from central Asia,
Buddhism (Mahayana Buddhism; spread of Buddhism in central Asia and to east Asia)
Trade across Indian Ocean
Spread of civilization to the south of India
Development of the south (economic expansion)
Rise of Gupta
Advances in science, art and literature
Mathematics (decimal system and concept of zero)
Economic expansion (and social change)
Confucianism as state ideology
Chinese power and influence (and Silk Road)
Break-down of unity
Nomad confederacy on steppes
Iron Age in Korea and Japan
Period of disunity and invasion
Buddhism in China
Confucianism and Buddhism in Korea and Japan
Which is/are the key area(s) from which civilization spreads out from? – Greece, Italy (Etruscans, Rome)
Key features: are there any features that give civilization in the region a special character? – city-states, republics, democracy; maritime trade; philosophy; rise of Christianity
Influences from other regions: did developments in your region owe anything to other regions? – Iron Age; alphabet, religion – Mithraism, Manichaeism, Christianity
Geographical location and environment: how might these have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this)? – maritime environment of Mediterranean region, not river valley
Developments in government and politics, society and economics – city-states, republics, democracy, empire
Developments in culture, religion and ideas – Greek thought; Mithraism, Manachaeism, Christianity
Developments in technology – Iron Age, alphabet
Key individuals: how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? Philosophers – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; conquerors and statesmen – Alexander the Great; Augustus
Key features: are there any features that give civilization in the region a special character?
Influences from other regions: did developments in your region owe anything to other regions? – Greek-based Hellenistic civilization
Geographical location and environment: how might these have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this)? – Mesopotamia the breadbasket of the region – river valley
Developments in government and politics, society and economics – empires; Aramaic; Greek cities; irrigation system
Developments in culture: art, religion and ideas – revival of Zoroastrianism; new religions – Christianity, Manichaeism
Developments in technology – irrigation system of Mesopotamia
Key individuals: how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? – Alexander the Great, who spread Greek civilization across the region
Key features: are there any features that give civilization in the region a special character? – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism
Influences from other regions: did developments in your region owe anything to other regions? – Iron tools; Alphabet, coinage, art styles
Geographical location and environment: how might these have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this)? – Ganges river valley
Developments in government and politics, society and economics – kingdoms and republics; empires; expanding trade networks; maritime trade across Indian Ocean
Developments in culture: art, religion and ideas – Buddhism, Jainism; Mahayana Buddhism; Gandhara culture
Developments in technology – iron tools; mathematics
Key individuals: how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? – Buddha, who founded Buddhism; Asoka, who aided spread Buddhism
Key features: are there any features that give civilization in the region a special character? – Confucianism, unity, Administrative system
Influences from other regions: did developments in your region owe anything to other regions? Iron technology, Buddhism
Geographical location and environment: how might these have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this)? – river valleys of China – Yellow river and Yangtze – make for Chinese predominance
Developments in government and politics, society and economics – empire; imperial administrative system, appointment and promotion of officials on merit
Developments in religion and ideas – Confucianism; Buddhism
Developments in technology – iron technology from outside; paper
Key individuals: how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? – Confucius, who founded Confucianism; Qin Shi Huang, the conqueror; Gaozu, the statesman
4. Class discussion
Below are a series of discussion questions to finish this unit. Choose the ones you would like your students to tackle.
1. Identify developments which encompassed more than one region: where did they originate? How did they spread? What impact did they have?
Missionary – Buddhism, Christianity
Trade – new great trade routes – Silk Road, Indian Ocean, Trans-Saharan
Religion – Hinduism from S Asia to SE Asia; Buddhism from S Asia to E Asia and SE Asia; Christianity from Middle East to Europe, Africa (Ethiopia)
Conquest – Alexander the Great’s – Europe to Middle East and touching S Asia; Roman empire – Europe to Middle East
What travelled fro one region to another? – religions (see above); styles of art and architecture (Greek to NW India – Gandhara culture, Indian to SE Asia)
ii. Which civilizations were based in major rivers, which were not?
On rivers: Middle East (Mesopotamia, Egypt), India (Ganges, Indus), China (Yelleo River, Yangtze);
Not on rivers: Mediterranean civilizations – Phoenicians, Greece, Etruscans
Points to be made are (1) civilizations no longer mostly confined to river valleys; and (2) are fluid in their borders, and expand in all sort of ways – trade, colonization, conquest.
iii. How did their civilizations change over time?
New political forms – rise of democracy (Athens in Greece) empires (Mauryan empire, Chinese empire, Roman empire, various Iranian empires); new religions and philosophies (Buddhism, Confucianism, Greek philosophy, Christianity and other religions)
The point to be made is that civilizations are fluid in their characteristics, not set in concrete; in general they become more complex and sophisticated as time goes by, until decline sets in or great shocks (especially barbarian invasion) occur.
iv. Who, in your class’s opinion, were the historical figures of greatest importance? Which of these had an impact beyond their own region of origin?
Conquerors and statesmen: Alexander the Great? Asoka (India)? First Emperor (China)? Gaozu (China)? Augustus (Rome)? Constantine (Rome)?
Thinkers and religious founders: Confucius (China)? Socrates, Plato, Aristotle (Greece)? Israelite prophets (Israel)? Jesus of Nazareth (Israel)?
The point to be made is that individuals make an impact on history in a variety of ways, but that there are patterns – all the great civilizations have produced thinkers and religious founders, as well as conquerors and statesmen.
v. What were the similarities and differences between these regions?
- writing systems? – alphabetic; pictographic; all were fully literate, with a significant part of the population (but in no case anywhere near the majority) able to read and write
- political systems? – monarchies, republics, democracies, empires, bureaucracies; this period of world history saw political variety begin to emerge
- belief systems? – traditional beliefs – polytheism -Greek and Roman, Middle Eastern, and Indian (proto-Hindu) religions; , ancestor reverence and animism – China, Africa; monotheism (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity); religo-philosophical systems – Buddhism, Confucianism: this period saw most of the great belief systems of the world make their appearance; the only major examples which came later were Islam and modern Western secularism
vi. By AD 500, which region had had the greatest influence across the Eastern Hemisphere, and in what ways?
Was it India and S Asia? Buddhism impacting on China, Korea and Japan; development of Mathematics would be foundational to later science and technology
Or the Middle East? Before 500 BC had exported alphabet-based literacy to Europe, including Greece and later Rome, and to South Asia, where Aramaic alphabet became the base for Sanskrit; and Christianity – foundational to later Western civilization
Or perhaps Europe? – styles of Greek art and architecture to Middle East and South Asia; and Rome, which ruled much of Middle East for centuries.
vii. Basing your choice on the headline points made for the different regions, come up with the 5 most important episodes between 500 BC and 500 AD in shaping later world history?
These might be….
1. Confucianism – foundational to Chinese culture for two thousand years
2. Buddhism – a religion followed today by billions of people
3. Imperial Chinese civil service – an essential ingredient to the modern state
4. Christianity – foundational to Western civilization
5. Mathematics in India – basic to all later science and technology
But other possibilities are: Greek philosophy (foundational to future Western thought, including science); the Roman Empire (which gave peace to millions); Judaism (without which Christianity, and later Islam, would not have existed).